Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gazette endorsement season ends with choice of Tester

Well, while my prediction that the Billings Gazette would endorse a Democrat in the governor's race was wrong, my prediction on what would happen in the most important race in Montana this election season wasn't.

It was an unsurprisingly full-throated endorsement, one that had some interesting features.

First of all, it was interesting that the same editorial board that had a lot of critical things to say about President Obama in its endorsement of Mitt Romney didn't at all address the fact that Sen. Tester has been a reliable, lockstep, vote for President Obama's policies.

Second, in its endorsement of Sen. Tester, there was this gratuitous swipe at the man the Gazette has endorsed in 5 consecutive Congressional races: "Sen. Jon Tester has accomplished more for Montana in his first term than Rep. Denny Rehberg has in twice that time." Um, maybe that is because Tester is one of 100 U.S. Senators, rather than one of 535 Congressmen? And did Sen. Tester accomplish more for Montana from 2006 to the present than did Sen. Conrad Burns, with his seniority and his seat on the Appropriations Committee, from 2000-2006? Somehow I doubt it. And yet that didn't keep the Gazette from endorsing an inexperienced challenger named Jon Tester in that race. There is a pattern here, and legislative results ain't it. You know your case is weak when you have to stoop to criticizing a Representative for not being as powerful as a Senator.

Third, there was no mention of Sen. Tester's deciding vote for Obamacare, the single most important piece of legislation that he encountered on his watch. If he did such a good job of "reaching across the aisle" and being a "moderate" as the editorial claims, one would think the editors would have to at least mention it and discuss why Sen. Tester's vote for Obamacare was representative of such qualities.

Fourth, there is not a single mention of traditional energy issues -- perhaps because Sen. Tester has been so ineffectual in persuading his own Democratic Party to adopt more moderate positions on oil, gas, and coal development. Forget working across the aisle -- Sen. Tester hasn't been able to provide leadership within his own party. This is no small matter, given that so much of Montana's reserve of energy lies under federal lands. Oil development has increased under Democratic rule, but only because it has taken place on privately owned land in North Dakota.

Fifth, there is no mention of Sen. Tester on the estate taxes that are about to take a bite out of Montana farming and ranching families, courtesy of Sen. Tester's party. This is probably because Sen. Tester's cynical introduction of a bill to prolong the Bush estate tax cuts was so, well, cynical. Please see the above reference to Sen. Tester being unable to provide leadership and exercise persuasion within his own party.

In summary, the Gazette's litany of reasons for voting for Sen. Tester seem to be little more than a list of minor pork projects and other votes that would be a no-brainer for any Montana Senator. Do the Gazette editors really believe that a Sen. Rehberg would have voted against small Montana banks, against Montana veterans, against small Montana agricultural producers, against wolf management, against saving small Montana post offices, etc.? Please.

And for a final thought: if this is the best that Sen. Tester can accomplish with his party in control of the U.S. Senate and the White House, what exactly will he get done if there is the President Mitt Romney that the Gazette editors claim to favor? What if the Republicans manage to take control of the Senate, as they have a good chance of doing? Will we see Sen. Tester "work across the aisle" and vote with Republicans to pass legislation, or will he be the same reliable Democratic vote he has been for the last 6 years, standing as part of a Democratic filibuster?

There may be valid reasons to choose to vote for Sen. Tester, but for the Gazette to cite an ability to work across the aisle as a closing argument for voting for a man who has voted 95% of the time with the most liberal Democratic President of the modern era seems disingenuous.

But then the Gazette's pattern of endorsements this season has seemed to defy reason -- and it's not just those of us on the right who think so.

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